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Lord Wade of Chorlton: Before the noble Lord sits down, let me say that in relation to Amendment No. 55 my point in regard to business and education was not just in terms of relationships, working together and so on. It related also to the contribution that business can make to education in stimulating more innovative ways of using new technologies to educate people that they may not be employing themselves, but which they can develop with others. I did not feel that the noble Lord addressed that part of my point.

Lord Bach: The Government accept absolutely that it is a crucial and key role for business to play and I suspect it is one that it has begun to play already.

10 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: I thank the noble Lord for referring back to the reference in both Clauses 2 and 3 in relation to education which is,

There is little difference between that and "appropriate to their needs". I accept therefore that the Minister makes a good point.

But there is another nuance about the need to be a young person. Sometimes what may be suitable for them may not be what is appropriate in terms of not just their own needs but of getting them into the workforce. Some young people may want to do one thing, but it may not be the best kind of training if somebody is trying to guide them into the workforce. Most of us are not concerned about people who can

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make up their own minds. We are concerned about people who are not making appropriate decisions for themselves.

I do not argue with the Minister about the words, "appropriate for their needs". I feel that phrase would have helped because it would reinforce the point that the council, when encouraging young people, should ensure that whatever education and training they go into are appropriate to helping them into the workforce. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 52 not moved.]

Baroness Darcy de Knayth moved Amendment No. 53:

Page 3, line 23, at end insert--

("( ) promote equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled people in education and training and all support services covering transition").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 53, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 131 and 161. These amendments have common purpose; namely, to strengthen the duty of the learning and skills councils to ensure equality of opportunity for disabled learners. Amendment No. 53 applies to the learning and skills council, Amendment No. 131 applies to local school councils and Amendment No. 161 to Wales. I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. He is happy that we should keep Wales in an English group for the sake of progress.

The amendments are seen as necessary by the Disability Consortium on Post-16 Education and Training, which consists of Mencap, RADAR and Skill among others--I mention Skill because I have the honour to be its president and therefore have an interest to declare. Why are they necessary? I welcome the fact that the new council must have regard,

    "to the needs of persons with learning difficulties",

in Clause 13, but the phrase suggests a reactive rather than a proactive duty. It is the same wording that appeared in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. But it does not reflect the many changes that have happened since then with regard to disability issues.

In 1992 the legislation was a big step forward. But it still allows for different colleges to make varied provision for disabled students. There are still instances where disabled people do not gain access to further studies because their local college does not provide it. That is particularly true of students with more severe impairments. If the amendments are accepted, the new bodies will be required to ensure that all the organisations they funded were actively working towards ensuring equality of access to education and training. An awareness of the needs of disabled learners would have to inform their planning, delivery and training. The change in wording would bring the learning and skills council in line with a key recommendation of the Disability Rights Task Force;

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that is, that the public sector should have a statutory duty to promote the equalisation of opportunities for disabled people in the provision of services.

At a meeting last week with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and her officials, which was welcome, she said that this duty would be better placed in the forthcoming disability and education legislation. But I have a number of concerns in that regard. First, since the legislation has not yet been written we do not know that it will include this duty. I do not know whether the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Bach, can confirm that it will be written in such a way. Secondly, while we have been told that the new disability and education Bill will be introduced this Session, about which I am delighted, we have been given no indication of a timescale for implementation. It therefore seems appropriate that the duty to promote should be included in this Bill, which does have a timescale.

But most important of all, the definition of "learning difficulty" and "disability" in Clause 13, on page 7, is rightly a definition which focuses on a person's ability to access learning. It is a wider definition than the more medical one in the disability discrimination legislation. It is wider even if the recommendations of the taskforce for changes to that legislation are implemented. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to give a slightly more encouraging response than that given at the meeting or that the Government will agree to think about the matter and perhaps discuss it further. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: I support the noble Baroness in moving this amendment. It encourages the distribution of information. I refer to a speech that I made earlier about information that students require which helps them to get through their tasks. It also helps the colleges to take the right action. Half of the problems in this field arise from the fact that people do not know what to do. They spend hours scrabbling through regulations and saying, "It can be done like that. That is quite easy". Everyone in this particular field must have 100 similar stories.

It may well be that the noble Baroness will say that this matter is dealt with in other legislation. It would not hurt to have it in all legislation. We talk about joined-up government and trying to get something which is coherent across the whole provision for education. I hope that we can achieve something here. I am addressing this matter because so often it has not been possible to access the information and people do not know what they are supposed to do. Repeating it will not hurt.

Baroness Blatch: I believe that the noble Baroness took exception to the fact that I thought it unfortunate that we were unable to deal with young people with special educational needs at Second Reading of the Bill. The argument was put by the noble Baroness that a separate and free-standing Bill will deal with those issues. But they are inextricably linked with this Bill, hence many of the amendments today will, I am sure, also be addressed in the new Bill.

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As one reads the present Bill, whatever the background of any young person or their learning needs up to the age of 19, they will have an entitlement. There will be obligation to provide properly for them. We have argued about those over the age of 19 where it becomes possible to make reasonable provision.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, is that there is a great deal of nervousness. There is some evidence that some providers are not meeting their obligations. There is a great deal in this Bill which is otiose in the sense that it should be taken as read, whereas many other issues are not. Practical reassurance would be given to people who will know that just as someone who does not have learning difficulties will have an entitlement under Clause 1 of the Bill, it is very important that they should be conscious of the fact that they are included. The word "inclusive" is much used nowadays. It is appropriate that they should be included both for an entitlement to proper provision up to the age of 19 and a reasonable provision within the resource constraints if they are over that age. It would be a good thing to put that on the face of the Bill. It is a costly option, but it is an entitlement.

Baroness Blackstone: Identifying and meeting the needs of disabled people will be one of the core activities of the LSC and the CETW. I underline the fact that it will not be just a peripheral concern. The Bill places the councils under a duty to report to the Secretary of State or to the National Assembly for Wales every year on both the progress each has made in the provision of post-16 education and training for people with disabilities and their future plans for such provision. Councils will also be under a duty to have particular regard to the needs of all persons with learning difficulties and, where they are under the age of 25, they must secure boarding accommodation for them where they cannot otherwise make adequate provision.

We have paid very close attention to the need to improve the transition of people with special educational needs from school to other forms of post-16 learning. Where a person with a statement of special educational needs intends to leave school to continue in post-16 education and training, the Bill makes new provision for an assessment of his or her learning needs. Should a young person's learning difficulties become apparent only after leaving school, he or she may also benefit from such an assessment up to the age of 19.

The new ConneXions service, launched by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State last week, will have a key role in advising and supporting the transition in England. It will participate in the transitional reviews of all young people with statements of special educational needs which are undertaken by LEAs when detailed consideration of what post-16 provision would best meet their needs begins.

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The new arrangements will ensure that transition planning for all those with statements of special educational needs starts at 14 and involves all local partners, the young persons themselves and their parents or carers, together with the local LSC. The LSC and the CETW will be under a duty to take account of such assessments in deciding what provision would best meet that person's needs. As I am sure the noble Baroness will agree, this is a very considerable step forward from the present situation.

None the less, I fully recognise and share the wish of Members of the Committee to ensure that learners with special needs, learning difficulties and disabilities receive the support that they need to succeed in post-16 education. I have listened carefully to the points that have been made this evening. I shall think further about whether placing the LSC under a duty to promote equality of opportunity would be helpful in addition to the measures already contained in the Bill, which I have just described. I hope to return at a later stage with an amendment. With that assurance, I trust that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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